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Arrested for a crime that's no longer a crime? Know your rights

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A criminal conviction can haunt you long after your case has cleared the courts. People with criminal convictions may find it harder to land jobs, take out loans and rent apartments. Even if you were never convicted, you could face unwanted obstacles simply for getting arrested.

In some cases, however, you may be able to may be able to seal your criminal record. This isn’t true for everyone, but for those who can take advantage of the opportunity, it means a second chance at a clean record. And the recent changes to Colorado’s marijuana laws mean that more people than ever can now have their records sealed.

What does it mean to seal your record?

In most cases, if you get your criminal record sealed, you no longer need to tell prospective employers or landlords about your arrest. The arrest won’t appear on updated background searches, and you can legally deny having a criminal record, with limited exceptions.

The expungement of records is a related process, but more comprehensive. Sealed records still exist but become unavailable to nearly everyone. Expunged records are physically destroyed. Colorado typically limits the expungement of records to juvenile offenses.

Who can get their criminal records sealed or expunged?

Colorado allows people to seal or expunge their records for several categories of criminal behavior:

  • Juvenile offenses
  • Underage drinking and driving
  • Underage alcohol or marijuana use
  • Arrests that didn’t result in charges brought to court
  • Charges resulting in acquittals, dismissals, pre-trial diversion agreements or deferred judgments
  • Marijuana use or possession misdemeanors that wouldn’t have been crimes after December 10, 2012
  • Certain convictions involving controlled substances, petty offenses or municipal violations

Even in these cases, there are guidelines and exceptions. For example, you may not have your records sealed for certain traffic offenses or if you still owe any fines, court costs or other fees.

How do you get your records sealed or expunged?

There are only a few steps in the process to seal your records, but they vary from case to case. They can also be complex. Most people ask an attorney to guide them through the process:

  • Obtain copies of all associated arrest records and reports
  • File your petition with the court
  • Pay the filing fee
  • In some cases, you may need to attend a hearing and defend your petition

New laws lead to new opportunities

Colorado’s laws are always changing, and the past few years have resulted in some huge new opportunities. Thousands of Coloradans with criminal convictions may now be eligible to seal their records, clear their names and pave the way for a better future.

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